O'Donnell became general manager of the Barry Controls Defense and Industrial Division of Applied Power in 1992. Prior to becoming general manager, he worked for two years as manager of engineering and operations. In that job, O'Donnell was responsible for all engineering groups and all manufacturing operations. From 1989 to 1990 he served as engineering manager for all engineering groups. O'Donnell joined Barry Controls as a project engineer in 1979. He spent five years as a project engineer and senior project engineer, and then became CAE manager in charge of CAD/CAM implementation. O'Donnell was employed by Barry as a co-op engineering student from 1975 to 1979. He holds a B.S.M.E. and M.B.A from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.
It's a noisy, vibrating world out there, and Brian O'Donnell sees every squeak, shake, and shock as an opportunity.
Design News--How does a formerly defense-oriented company like Barry Controls make a living these days?
O'Donnell: Defense is now about 1/3 of our business. Our focus on the defense side is to go after very targeted segments of the defense market, and also to fight for market share in those programs as well. Because when you do get specified on those programs, they can be lucrative. We've also diversified into markets where we can use our technology and our expertise. For us, one of the biggest areas of diversification has been heavy trucks. Those companies have been downsizing, so they depend on us as a resource to do specific things like shock and vibration control.
Q: Some consider NVH a cosmetic problem. How do you and your engineers view NVH?
A: From an ergonomic standpoint, it's a big issue and it's becoming still bigger. From an efficiency standpoint and a human factors standpoint, it's more than just perception. And in some markets, it can make a product stand out. Remember that a big emphasis in the market is on quality. Quality has a lot of connotations, but one of those connotations is: "smooth and quiet." So smooth and quiet sells. It's important to consumers.
Q: What sort of future do you see for traditional passive vibration control technology?
A: It'll definitely be there. In a lot of low-to-medium performance kinds of applications, passive technology yields an excellent cost/benefit ratio. We will definitely see active technology in automotive applications, heavy-truck applications, construction equipment, and agricultural equipment. For active technology to be commercially viable in some of these applications, you need systems that must be commercially available for less than $500 per system. That's the kind of price range we're talking about, and that price will be reached within a year.
Q: How important is software to the field of shock and vibration control?
A: It's important in a number of specific areas if you're talking about active systems. The control algorithms and the interface to those control algorithms are very important--not only to run the system. Many times people want to be able to feed that information into other systems. Also, many of the materials used in shock and vibration control are difficult to analyze. There's a lot of work being done on FEA techniques for many different types of elastomeric material applications. More and more applications are demanding higher-end analysis capabilities, and most of the higher-end applications require some sort of durability or qualification testing, which is very expensive. So there's a drive towards being able to do less empirical testing and more analytical testing.
Q: How can U.S. manufacturing companies like Barry Controls compete with low-cost competitors offshore?
A: First, there's definitely still a very high level of need for companies that can layer engineering support on top of a manufacturing product. A lot of companies have essentially outsourced their engineering capabilities and look for that support in addition to manufacturing capability. Of course they can still go to design houses and source products offshore. So from a materials standpoint or a process standpoint we need to be more efficient than offshore suppliers. Also, we need to be global suppliers, and Barry Controls is part of Applied Power, which has manufacturing facilities throughout the world. We can look to source in areas where we can get economies of scale.
Q: How important are foreign sales to your company, and how important will they be in years to come?
A: They're fairly important now, and they're going to be getting much more important. Brazil is a big country. If their economy remains stable, there will be a lot of demand for the types of products that we supply. So we have a facility there and a lot of people there. There are a number of programs that we're involved with in Korea for export throughout Asia. And Barry Controls has two facilities in Europe right now. About 1/3 of our business is in Europe, and the same type of markets exist in Europe as in the United States. So Europe is a big area of focus for us as well.